Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: DOD Could Become More Flexible on Marijuana, MI MedMJ Regs Pass, More... (9/15/16)

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter seems pretty mellow about marijuana, more workers are testing positive for illegal drugs, medical marijuana advances in Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Jersey, and more.

Employee drug use is on the rise, a major lab reports. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Defense Secretary Hints Pentagon Could Relax When It Comes to Hiring Marijuana Users. Responding to a hypothetical question at TechCrunch's Disrupt SF event on Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said the military should be more flexible when it comes to hiring people who have used marijuana or other illicit drugs. When asked if he would be willing to hire someone who "[partook] in some goodies" at Burning Man when looking for engineers, Carter replied: "It depends on what the goodies are. It's a very good question and we are changing that, in recognition of the fact that times change and generations change and by the way, laws change as respect to marijuana. In that and many other ways, we need to, while protecting ourselves and doing the appropriate things to make sure that it's safe to entrust information with people, we need to understand  -- and we do -- the way people [and] lives have changed, not hold against them things that they've done when they were younger. It's an important question and the answer is yes, we can be flexible in that regard, and we need to," he concluded.

Nebraska Marijuana Activists Begin Working on 2018. Two separate initiative campaigns, one aimed at decriminalization and one aimed at legalization, are getting underway with an eye toward making the 2018 ballot. The decriminalization proposal started signature gathering last month; the legalization campaign is awaiting approval from the secretary of state's office to begin signature gathering.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Moves to Ease Medical Marijuana Access. State regulators Wednesday released draft rules that would make it easier for patients to gain access to medical marijuana. The rules would allow nurse practitioners to certify patients for medical marijuana, allow dispensaries to post prices on their websites, and allow dispensaries to deliver to patients in nursing homes, hospices, and other health care facilities. "Our goal is safety, transparency, and access for patients who need this," said Dr. Monica Bharel, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which oversees the state's medical marijuana program. "This is an evolving process," Bharel said, "both in Massachusetts and nationally." The proposed rules were presented to the Public Health Council, which will give final approval, but not before a public hearing expected this fall.

Michigan House Gives Final Approval to Medical Marijuana Regulation Package. The House voted Wednesday in concurrence with last week's Senate vote approving a series of bills that would create a regulatory framework for medical marijuana that explicitly allows for dispensaries to operate. It also creates a licensing system for patients, growers, and dispensaries and establishes a 3% tax on retail sales. The package of bills now goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who is expected to sign it into law.

New Jersey Governor Signs Bill Adding PTSD as Qualifying Condition. Gov. Chris Christie (R) Wednesday signed into law Assembly Bill 457, which will allow people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to use medical marijuana. The bill passed the legislature overwhelmingly a month and a half ago.

Drug Testing

Quest Diagnostics, one of the country's largest drug testing laboratories, reports that the percentage of workers testing positive for illegal drugs has been increasing for the past three years after decades of decline. Some 4% of all 11 million drug tests came back positive. Positive tests results for marijuana have increased 26% since 2011 and account for almost half (45%) of all positives. But heroin positives jumped 146% in the same period.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Mississippi police chief shoots himself during an investigation into asset forfeiture funds, a Massachusetts police officer shoots herself during an investigation into thefts from her evidence room, an Ohio cop goes to prison for lying on drug search warrants and stealing big time, and more. Let's get to it:

In Braintree, Massachusetts, somebody has been stealing from the police evidence room, according to an audit released Wednesday. The audit found that the Braintree Police Department is missing nearly 5,000 pieces of drug evidence, 60 guns, 4,700 pieces of property evidence, and $407,000 in seized cash are missing. Some drug evidence bags were torn open and emptied, while others had the drugs replaced with other substances. Two of the missing guns were found at the home of Officer Susan Zopatti, who was in charge of the evidence room. She killed herself in May after being interviewed as part of the audit. At least six drug cases have been dropped, and more are likely to follow.

In Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, the police chief shot and killed himself last Thursday after being relieved of duty during an investigation into the department's handling of asset forfeiture funds. Chief Mike De Nardo was being escorted by two deputies out of the police station when he shot himself in the chest.

In Eugene, Oregon, a former Deschutes County sheriff's captain was sentenced last Thursday to five years in federal prison for stealing more than $205,000 from drug buy funds and money seized in drug busts. Scott Beard repeatedly stole funds over a two-year period and laundered them using the bank account of his mistress, whom he treated to a lavish lifestyle. He copped to two counts of theft and two counts of money laundering in May, and was taken into custody upon sentencing.

In Columbus, Ohio, a former Reynoldsburg police officer was sentenced last Friday to 33 months in federal prison for falsifying search warrants in drug cases and stealing $150,000 in property and cash. Shane Mauger had worked with Reynoldsburg Detective Tye Downard, who hung himself in his jail cell after being arrested for using his connections to sell drugs, including drugs stolen from the evidence room. Both were members of the Franklin County Drug Task Force, and at least 15 felony drug cases have been dropped because they lied on search warrant applications. Mauger pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to deprive persons of the civil rights and theft.

Medical Marijuana Update

As all eyes turn toward marijuana legalization initiatives looming in November, it's been pretty quiet on the medical marijuana front. At least there's good news from Michigan.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the Senate passed an industry regulation bill allowing dispensaries. The state Senate Thursday passed a bill that would tax and regulate medical marijuana businesses and explicitly allow for dispensaries. The bill would set a 3% tax on dispensaries' gross retail income, require licensing to grow, process, transport, and sell medical marijuana, and explicitly allow for forms of medical marijuana that include infused, non-smokable forms of the herb. The House approved much of this package almost a year ago. Now, it goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder (R).

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Lansing, MI
United States

Chronicle AM: CA&MA Polls, Kratom Proponents Mobilize, Canada OKs Prescription Heroin; More... (9/14/16)

The polling is looking good in Massachusetts and better in California, there will be no initiative for Michigan this year, kratom proponents fight a proposed DEA ban, Canada gives the go-ahead for expanded heroin prescribing, and more.

The Canadian government has cleared the way for limited heroin prescribing for hard-core users. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Could Be a $50 Billion a Year Industry Within a Decade. A new report from financial analysts Cowen & Company says the legal weed industry could grow to a $50 billion a year business by 2026. The report notes that legalizing pot in California alone could triple the size of the industry, currently around $6 billion a year.

California: LA Times Poll Has Prop 64 at 58%. The Prop 64 legalization initiative is supported by 58% of voters, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. Only 34% said they would vote against the measure, with 8% undecided. "It's very clear that Californians' attitudes have changed dramatically on this issue over the last several years," said Dan Schnur, director of the poll and of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "The opposition is going to have to identify a fairly sizable source of campaign funding if this initiative is to be close," he added.

California: Eyewitness News/Southern California Newsgroup Poll Has Prop 64 at 52%. The Prop 64 legalization initiative has 52% in a new poll from Eyewitness News/Southern California Newsgroup. Some 40% said they would vote no, with 8% undecided.

Massachusetts Poll Has Legalization Initiative Up By Five Points. A new poll from WBUR TV has support for the Question 4 legalization initiative at 50%, with 45% opposed. "There's some big demographic splits, particularly along age lines," pollster Steve Koczela said. "Younger people are very much in favor of legalization, and it declines steadily as you move up the age brackets to where you get to voters who are 60-plus, and they're opposed to it by a 17-point margin."

Federal Judge Puts Final Nail in Coffin of Michigan Legalization Initiative. A federal court judge rejected a last chance effort by MI Legalize to get its legalization initiative on the November ballot. Judge Linda Parker Tuesday denied a motion from the group to stop the printing of election ballots, saying there was not enough time to stop the election process. MI Legalize gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but some of them came outside a 180-day mandated by state law. MI Legalize challenged rulings by state officials that knocked those signatures off the tally, but lost in the state courts -- and now, in federal court.

Kratom

Kratom Supporters Fight Proposed DEA Ban. Proponents of the Southeast Asian plant with mild opium-like qualities have mobilized to block the DEA proposed emergency move to place the substance on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Hundreds marched in front of the White House Tuesday and more than 120,000 have signed a Change.org petition opposing the ban, meaning the White House will have to publicly address the issue.

International

Canada Has Approved Prescription Heroin. The Canadian government last week quietly approved new regulations that will allow doctors to prescribe diacetylmorphine (heroin) to long-term users who have not responded to more conventional approaches to weaning them from the drug. The Crosstown clinic in Vancouver is currently the only place in the country with a heroin maintenance program, but that should now not be the case for long.

British MPs Call for Medical Marijuana. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform has called for medical marijuana to be legalized in the United Kingdom. The call comes on the heels of a report by neurologist Dr. Mike Barnes urging that marijuana be moved from Schedule I to Schedule IV on the British drugs classification scheme. "Many hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are already taking cannabis for primarily medical reasons," said MP Caroline Lucas, who co-chairs the group. "It is totally unacceptable that they should face the added stress of having to break the law to access their medicine."

Chronicle AM: MA Init Gets Big Bucks, Chicago's West Side is Heroin "Epicenter", More... (9/12/16)

The California legalization campaign heats up, the Massachusetts legalization campaign is sitting pretty with lots of cash, a North Carolina town becomes the first in the South to adopt Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) for drug users, and more.

People lining up to buy heroin in Chicago. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

California Legalization Supporters File Complaint Against Opposition Committee. Diane Goldstein, one of the proponents for the Prop 64 legalization initiative, filed a complaint last Friday against Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action, the lobbying and campaign arm of the prohibitionist Project SAM. The complaint claims the committee misreported donations, failed to file contribution reports, and left some contribution reports incomplete, including one for Pennsylvania millionaire Julie Schauer, who gave $1.3 million the opposition.

California Highway Patrol Says It Is Neutral on Legalization Initiative. The state Highway Patrol last Friday clarified that it has not taken a position on the Prop 64 legalization initiative. The move comes after the head of the California Association of Highway Patrolmen criticized the measure for not setting a legal driving limit for the amount of THC in drivers' blood. CHP provided technical assistance to the measure's authors and is involved in implementing medical marijuana regulations signed into law last year.

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Getting Big Bucks Backing. Supporters of the Question 4 legalization initiative have taken in more than $2.4 million since January, most of it from the New Approach PAC, a group based in Washington, DC, that is led by Graham Boyd. Groups opposing Question 4 have only raised less than $400,000, giving supporters a six-to-one funding advantage.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Report Names Chicago's West Side as "Epicenter" of State's Heroin Crisis. A new report from Roosevelt University, Hidden in Plain Sight, examines heroin arrests, hospitalizations, and deaths on the city's West Side and finds that the area accounts for one out of four hospitalizations for overdoses in the entire state. The response to rising heroin use has focused on enforcement, not treatment, said report coauthor Kathy Kane Willis. "Incarceration or arrest is an extremely ineffective and expensive way to treat a health crisis like this. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem," she said. In response to the report, state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago) has launched the West Side Heroin Task Force to help find evidence-based solutions to the problem.

Law Enforcement

Fayetteville, NC, Starts First Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program in the South. This month the Fayetteville Police Department and a number of partners, including the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC), are launching a new program to divert low-level drug and sex work (prostitution) offenders to treatment instead of jail. Currently, Fayetteville faces one of the highest rates of opioid abuse in the nation. Last year alone over 500 people were arrested for drug possession in the city. Under the new law enforcement assisted diversion program (LEAD) launched this month, police officers will be able to divert eligible citizens (people with under 4 grams of drugs, no violent record, etc) to treatment providers and social services instead of funneling them through the criminal justice system, where often the cases are thrown out or people serve minimal jail time and wind up back on the streets.

International

Rampant Meth Use is Driving Asia's Drug War. The Philippines isn't the only country in the region waging a deadly "war on drugs." In Thailand and Myanmar, drug users are sentenced to long prison terms, while Indonesia has declared a "narcotics emergency" and resumed the execution of drug convicts. But that tough response is only likely to make things worse, experts said.

Four Dead in Drug War Killings in Five Days, Including One Police Officer

Guns and drugs are a bad combination. Or, more precisely, drug prohibition in a nation where guns are freely available has tremendous potential for fatal conflicts between drug users and sellers and the police who are out to get them. Attempting to enforce widely-flouted drug prohibition laws in a society as heavily armed as this one is a recipe for violent encounters. When the war on drugs intersects with the Second Amendment, the bullets fly.

And the bullets were flying during the first week of September. Four people, including a New Mexico police officer, were killed in three separate incidents of drug law enforcement over a five-day period beginning on September 2. That brings Drug War Chronicle'scount of the killed to 37 so far this year.

During the five years the Chronicle has been tracking drug war deaths, they have occurred at a rate of about one a week. Not so far this month, though.

The number of police officers killed in the drug war has typically been a handful each year, but with four officers already killed so far this year, 2016 could end up being an atypically bloody year for police, too.

Here are the three fatal encounters that left four dead in the drug war since the month began:

On September 2, in Alamogordo, New Mexico, a wanted drug suspect and an Alamagordo police officer died in a shootout after a foot chase. Joseph Moreno, 38, died at the scene, while Officer Clint Corvinus, 33, succumbed to his wounds at a local hospital. Corvinus and another officer encountered Moreno while on patrol, but he took running when they tried to detain him. Gunfire broke out, and the two men were fatally wounded. The New Mexico State Police are investigating. Moreno had a lengthy criminal history, including a stint in state prison in 2001. Since then, he had been arrested numerous times, mostly on drug charges, but also for burglary, robbery, escape, and conspiracy to attempt to commit a violent felony. He had three warrants outstanding when the shootout occurred and was scheduled for court on drug charges in December. During a press conference the same day as the shooting, Alamogordo Police Chief Daron Syling said police had received threats after Moreno's death from people they believe are associated with him. One man was arrested after showing up at the hospital and threatening police.

On September 6, in Omaha, Nebraska, Douglas County sheriff's deputies shot and killed David L. Anderson, 25, as they attempted to arrest him on a felony warrant for possession of a controlled substance. The circumstances are not clear, but deputies reported they were being fired on before opening fire on the black pickup truck Anderson was driving. Witnesses reported deputies pulling Anderson from the truck after it crashed. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. Police did not say if a weapon had been recovered. The deputies involved are now on leave and the Omaha Police Department is investigating the incident.

On September 7, in East Lakeland, Florida, members of a Polk County Sheriff's Office "high intensity drug task force" shot and killed Francis Perry, 32, after he refused officers' orders to exit his vehicle and then opened fire with a handgun, police said. The incident began when task force members on patrol spotted Perry driving a black Dodge Charger and recognized him as someone with outstanding warrants. They followed him until he parked in the driveway of a house, and he refused to roll down his tinted window or exit the vehicle. As officers prepared to break the window glass, Perry reached for a 9mm pistol he was wearing on his hip and opened fire. Four officers returned fire, firing 28 rounds, with five striking Perry, who died shortly thereafter at a nearby hospital. "We didn't choose to shoot Francis Perry," Sheriff Perry Judd said at a news conference. "He chose for us to shoot him, and we accommodated him... We can only surmise, ladies and gentlemen, that this guy decided he wanted to end his life here, that this was really a suicide by cop." Perry had a long criminal history and more than $5,000 of meth in his car, police said.

Fentanyl Maker Kicks In Half a Million to Defeat Arizona Marijuana Legalization

Marijuana legalization advocates have long argued that pharmaceutical companies, who could lose out if marijuana is legally available, are some of the staunchest supporters of marijuana prohibition, and now an Arizona company is making their case for them.

fentanyl (Creative Commons)
According to campaign finance reports posted online by the Arizona secretary of state's office, fentanyl manufacturer Insys Therapeutics has donated $500,000 to foes of the Prop 205 marijuana legalization initiative.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid several dozen times more potent than heroin. It has been linked to numerous opioid overdose deaths across the country, especially when mixed with heroin. Marijuana, on the other hand, has no reported overdose deaths -- ever (although the analogy isn't perfect, because Prop 205 is a legalization initiative, Arizona already has medical).

Insys isn't just any pharmaceutical company. Its sole product is Subsys, a sublingual fentanyl spray, and it has shown that it's willing to bend the rules to sell that product. In the past month alone, two former company employees pleaded not guilty to federal charges related to an alleged kickback scheme to get doctors to prescribe Subsys and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit against the company charing that Insys hawked the drug to doctors for off-label prescribing.

Insys's "desire for increased profits led it to disregard patients' health and push addictive opioids for non-FDA approved purposes," Madigan wrote.

While Subsys is the only product the company currently markets, it says on the home page of its website that it is also working "to develop pharmaceutical cannabinoids." It's not much of a leap to wonder whether the company is backing the continued criminalization of marijuana users in order to protect potential market share for its products in development, and legalization supporters were quick to do so.

Responding to a query from US News & World Report, the anti-legalization Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy said it would not return the donation. Instead, it released a statement expressing gratitude for the donation and pointing out that Insys is an Arizona-based company, unlike the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which backs the legalization effort.

The MPP-backed Arizona Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol responded with a statement from campaign director J.P. Holyoak, who laid into both InSys and the opposition group that took its money.

"We are truly shocked by our opponents' decision to keep a donation from what appears to be one of the more unscrupulous members of Big Pharma. You have a company using profits from the sale of what has been called 'the most potent and dangerous opioid on the market' to prevent adults from using a far less harmful substance. In addition to selling an extremely potent and dangerous opioid, they have been under investigation by numerous states and the federal government for the manner in which they have done so," Holyoak said.

"Their homepage touts their development of 'pharmaceutical cannabinoids,' which are synthetic versions of chemical compounds found in marijuana. It appears they are trying to kill a non-pharmaceutical market for marijuana in order to line their own pockets," he continued.

"Our opponents have made a conscious decision to associate with this company. They are now funding their campaign with profits from the sale of opioids -- and maybe even the improper sale of opioids. We hope that every Arizonan understands that Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy is now a complete misnomer. Their entire campaign is tainted by this money. Any time an ad airs against Prop. 205, the voters should know that it was paid for by highly suspect Big Pharma actors."

Phoenix, AZ
United States

Chronicle AM: House GOP Wants Unemployment Drug Tests, MI Senate OKs Dispensaries, More... (9/9/16)

House Republicans unleash another drug testing for benefits campaign, marijuana legalization foes start making moves, Michigan has moved a big step closer to explicitly allowing dispensaries, and more.

House Republicans want laid off workers to have to urinate in a cup before receiving benefits. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Approves First Permit for Retail Pot Shop. The state's Marijuana Control Board Thursday approved the first permit for a retail marijuana store. The permit went to Frozen Budz in Fairbanks. Co-owner Destiny Neade said she hoped to be open by October 1. "Now all I need is some herb," she said. The board was also considering 16 other permit applications.

California Anti-Legalization Effort Gets Big Gift from Pennsylvania Millionaire. Pennsylvania millionaire Julie Schauer has donated $1.3 million to the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana/No on 64 campaign committee. Most of the money will be used to try to defeat the Prop 64 legalization initiative, but some will go to fight legalization campaigns in other states, too. Schauer's money made up most of the $64,000 that has gone to a separate committee opposing Prop 64. That committee has only raised $300,000, while committees supporting Prop 64 have raised more than $6 million.

Maine Police Chiefs Oppose Legalization Initiative. The Maine Chiefs of Police Association Friday formally announced its opposition to the Question 1 legalization initiative. "We're concerned about the effect (legalization) may have on the communities and the youth after looking at what's happened in Colorado," said Falmouth Police Chief Edward Tolan, incoming president of the association. "That's what prompted us to take this position as police chiefs."

Michigan Legalizers Ask Federal Court to Intervene in Signature Dispute. A day after being turned away by the state Supreme Court, the MI Legalize campaign has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block the printing of state election ballots until disputed petition signatures are counted. The group handed in enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but some of them were gathered outside a 180-day period and not counted, keeping the measure off the ballot. MI Legalize has gotten nowhere in the state courts. Ballots were supposed to be printed today.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Senate Passes Industry Regulation Bill Allowing Dispensaries. The state Senate Thursday passed a bill that would tax and regulate medical marijuana businesses and explicitly allow for dispensaries. The bill would set a 3% tax on dispensaries' gross retail income, require licensing to grow, process, transport, and sell medical marijuana, and explicitly allow for forms of medical marijuana that include infused, non-smokable forms of the herb. The House approved much of this package almost a year ago. Now, it goes to the desk of Gov. Ricky Snyder (R).

Drug Testing

House Republicans in New Push to Drug Test Unemployment Applicants. House Republicans are pushing a new bill that would give states the option of forcing drug tests on applicants for unemployment benefits. They say the bill is needed because a Labor Department rule bars states from using a 2012 law to do so. The measure is HR 5945, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX).

International

Canada Wants US to End Travel Ban on Residents Who Smoke Pot. The case of a Canadian man barred from entering the US because he admitted to recreational marijuana use has provoked the Canadian government to seek a re-set of US border policy. "We obviously need to intensify our discussions with our border authorities in the United States, including the Department of Homeland Security," the public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp late on Thursday. "This does seem to be a ludicrous situation," he said, noting that marijuana is legal in Washington state as well as "three or four other jurisdictions in the United States." First, though, Canada might want to work on its own border policy; it bars US pot smokers from entering the country.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More jails guards go down, a Louisiana drug task force head gets nailed for ripping off the feds, a Memphis cop gets nailed for trying to extort an alleged drug dealer, and more. Let's get to it:

In Conway, Arkansas, a Faulkner County jail guard was arrested last Thursday for smuggling meth into the jail. Guard Luke Wimberly, 21, is charged with furnishing prohibited articles, delivery of less than two grams of meth, and misdemeanor abuse of office. He made bail the same day.

In Maclenny, Florida, a Baker County jail deputy was arrested last Friday for smuggling drugs into the jail. Deputy Jason Barnett is charged with introducing contraband into a correctional facility and was being held on $25,000 bail. He has been suspended with pay pending termination proceedings.

In Memphis, a Shelby County sheriff's deputy was arrested Wednesday for trying to extort thousands of dollars from a drug dealer. Deputy Jeremy Drewery, 41, threatened the man with arrest before taking $2,000 to go away, an FBI affidavit filed in federal court said. He is charged with violating the federal Hobbs Act, which prohibits attempted or actual extortion.

In Houma, Louisiana, the former head of the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office narcotics division was sentenced Wednesday to six months probation and $16,000 in restitution for stealing federal grant money. He had pleaded guilty earlier to stealing $15,925 that was supposed to be used to support a multi-jurisdictional drug task force in the parish. Prosecutors said that he claimed and approved his own overtime pay for the federal grants, but that he sometimes claimed overtime for narcotics work when he was actually working private security details.

In Toms River, New Jersey, a former state juvenile officer was sentenced last Friday to 60 days in jail for selling heroin near an elementary school. Erica Kotelnicki had been employed at the Ocean County Juvenile Detention Center, but was not on duty when she was arrested with heroin in a parking lot. She copped to possession of heroin with intent to distribute.

Medical Marijuana Update

In a surprise move, the conservative American Legion comes out for marijuana rescheduling, Arkansas medical marijuana initiatives see lawsuits fly, Ohio is now a medical marijuana state, and more.

National

At the end of August, the American Legion called for marijuana to be rescheduled. The nation's largest veterans' organization has passed a resolution calling on the federal government to move marijuana off of Schedule I. The resolutions calls on the government "amend legislation to remove marijuana from schedule I and reclassify it in a category that, at a minimum will recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value." The resolution, which also calls on the DEA to "license privately-funded medical marijuana production operations in the United States to enable safe and efficient cannabis drug development research," was approved at the America Legion annual meeting in Cincinnati at the end of August.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, a second lawsuit challenged the Medical Cannabis Act initiative. A Little Rock attorney who is a member of NORML's National Legal Committee has filed a lawsuit seeking to knock the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act off the November ballot. In the lawsuit, attorney Kara Benca asked the court to invalidate some 15,000 voter signatures, which would disqualify the initiative. A second initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, has also qualified for the ballot. If both pass, the one with the most votes wins.

On Tuesday, medical marijuana foes challenged a second medical marijuana initiative. Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana has filed a lawsuit seeking to disqualify the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment from the November ballot. The same group, which includes the state Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau, earlier filed a similar suit against a competing initiative, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. The lawsuits claim ballot titles and descriptions are deceptive. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act is also the target of another lawsuit challenging its handling of reporting by canvassers.

Ohio

As of Thursday, medical marijuana is now legal in the state, but... Medical marijuana is now legal in the Buckeye State, but it could be years before it legally gets into the hands of patients. The state must first create a system to grow, distribute, and regulate medical marijuana. The state has 30 days to appoint a Marijuana Control Commission, which will then have 240 days to set up rules around the fledgling industry. And actually getting businesses up and running and crops in the ground will take even longer.

Oklahoma

On Tuesday, the medical marijuana initiative campaign filed a lawsuit over the rewriting of the ballot language. Oklahomans for Health, the group behind the medical marijuana initiative, filed suit to challenge Attorney General Scott Pruitt's (R) rewrite of its ballot description. The original wording of the ballot title made it clear that a yes vote would okay only medical use approved by a physician, but Pruitt's version starts out like this: "This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified." And Oklahomans for Health is crying foul: "Thousands and thousands of signatures were collected from voters of Oklahoma," attorney David Slane said after he filed the lawsuit. "No elected official has the right to rewrite these ballots in such a way that he would try to unfairly influence voters. Scott Pruitt has a habit, a pattern of doing this." Because the campaign was late handing in signatures, the issue is unlikely to appear on the ballot this year. Look for 2018.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: MI Init Nixed, MedMJ Legal in OH, Cartels Shoot Down Mexican Chopper, More.. (9/8/16)

Alaska cannabis cafes are delayed again, Michigan legalizers strike out in court, Ohio becomes the latest medical marijuana state, and more.

Medical marijuana is now legal in Ohio, but a legal supply is still a couple of years down the road. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Again Delay Decision on Cannabis Cafes. The state's Marijuana Control Board first issued draft rules for an "on-site consumption endorsement" for pot shops back in May, but month's later the rules haven't been finalized, and the board has now decided it will not even take up the issue again for another seven weeks. At least one board member, Brandon Emmett, accused the board of trying to avoid allowing consumption at cannabis cafes. "We can spin it however we want, but it's becoming quite apparent that there is an effort by this board to stamp out consumption anywhere other than one's home," Emmett said.

Michigan Supreme Court Nixes Legalization Initiative's Appeal. It's official: There will be no legalization initiative on the ballot in November. The state Supreme Court Wednesday denied an appeal over signature gathering rules from initiative sponsors MI Legalize. The group had sought to have signatures counted that were gathered outside a 180-day limit, but state courts, now including the highest court, have ruled against them.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Now Legal in Ohio, But… As of today, medical marijuana is legal in the Buckeye State, but it could be years before it legally gets into the hands of patients. The state must first create a system to grow, distribute, and regulate medical marijuana. The state has 30 days to appoint a Marijuana Control Commission, which will then have 240 days to set up rules around the fledgling industry. And actually getting businesses up and running and crops in the ground will take even longer.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio County Will Offer Immunity to People Turning in Heroin, Opioids. Hamilton County (Cincinnati) Prosecutor Joe Deters has asked for blanket immunity from prosecution for anyone turning in heroin or other deadly drugs, and Common Pleas Court Presiding Judge Robert Ruelman has agreed to the move. The move comes as the region grapples with high levels of heroin and opioid misuse.

Drug Testing

DC Private Schools Sue Over Random Drug Tests of Teachers. The Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington has sued the District of Columbia for threatening to pull their licenses if they do not subject their teachers to "random and suspicionless" drug testing. Under a DC law, some employees in "safety sensitive" positions in "child development facilities" are required to undergo random drug tests. Some of the private schools in the association have "child development facility" licenses. Until 2013, elementary and secondary schools were exempt from the requirement, but that year, DC issued a memo requiring the schools to employ random drug testing. That's what the schools are suing over.

International

Mexican Police Helicopter Shot Down Over Michoacan Three police officers and the pilot were killed when suspected cartel members shot down their chopper near Apatzingan, Michoacan on Tuesday. The area has been a hotbed of cartel activity, as well as the scene of armed conflict between the cartels and (sometimes) government-supported vigilantes. This is the worst helicopter attack since May 2015, when gunmen in Jalisco brought down a military helicopter, killing ten soldiers.

Chronicle AM: AZ & CA MJ Polls, AR & OK MedMJ Lawsuits; Filipino Massacre Continues; More... (9/7/16)

New polls have good news for Arizona pot legalizers and better news for California ones, more lawsuits get filed over Arkansas and Oklahoma medical marijuana initiatives, the Philippines' murderous drug war continues apace, the Indonesian drug fighters want to imitate it, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo "The Punisher" Duterte (theinfluence.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has Legalization Initiative Leading. An Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite poll has the Prop 205 legalization initiative favored by 50% of registered voters, with 40% opposed and 10% undecided. A 10-point lead is good, but getting over 50% would be better. "The proposal starts out ahead... but that doesn't mean it ends up that way after a campaign," said public-opinion pollster Mike O'Neil, who was not involved in the survey. "It reflects an evolving attitude on marijuana throughout the entire country, and we're part of that. People are no longer buying that this is just a horrible thing."

California Poll Finds Strong Majority for Legalization Initiative. A new poll from the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley has support for the Prop 64 legalization initiative at 63.8%. That's in line with other recent polls that have shown the initiative apparently cruising toward victory. The strongest support came from Democrats (73.8%), African Americans (71.9%), Latinos (69.3%), and independents (62.2%).

Vermont Legislative Committee Will Examine Marijuana Policy Ahead of Next Year's Session. State Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said Tuesday the Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee will hold extra meetings this year to examine various issues around marijuana policy, including medical marijuana. Vermont was touted as likely to be the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process, but a bill this year passed the Senate, only to see it killed in the House. "My hope is that the House will take a look at it this time and work on a bill," he said.

Nashville Takes Another Step Toward Decriminalization. The Nashville city council has approved a marijuana decriminalization ordinance for a second time. It still has one more reading before it passes the council. The measure would give police the option of charging people caught with a half-ounce or less with a civil penalty instead of a misdemeanor.

Medical Marijuana

American Legion Calls for Marijuana to Be Rescheduled. The nation's largest veterans' organization has passed a resolution calling on the federal government to move marijuana off of Schedule I. The resolutions calls on the government "amend legislation to remove marijuana from schedule I and reclassify it in a category that, at a minimum will recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value." The resolution, which also calls on the DEA to "license privately-funded medical marijuana production operations in the United States to enable safe and efficient cannabis drug development research," was approved at the America Legion annual meeting in Cincinnati at the end of August.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Foes File Lawsuit to Block Second Initiative. Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana has filed a lawsuit seeking to disqualify the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment from the November ballot. The same group, which includes the state Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau, earlier filed a similar suit against a competing initiative, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. The lawsuits claim ballot titles and descriptions are deceptive. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act is also the target of another lawsuit challenging its handling of reporting by canvassers.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaigns Files Lawsuit Over Rewrite of Ballot Language. Oklahomans for Health, the group behind the medical marijuana initiative filed suit Tuesday to challenge Attorney General Scott Pruitt's (R) rewrite of its ballot description. The original wording of the ballot title made it clear that a yes vote would okay only medical use approved by a physician, but Pruitt's version starts out like this: "This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified." And Oklahomans for Health is crying foul: "Thousands and thousands of signatures were collected from voters of Oklahoma," attorney David Slane said after he filed the lawsuit. "No elected official has the right to rewrite these ballots in such a way that he would try to unfairly influence voters. Scott Pruitt has a habit, a pattern of doing this." Because the campaign was late handing in signatures, the issue is unlikely to appear on the ballot this year. Look for 2018.

Hemp

Colorado Certifies Country's First Domestic Hemp Seeds. The state Department of Agriculture has certified domestic hemp seeds for the first time in this country. State officials showed them off Wednesday. The certification is the endpoint of a years-long collaboration between the department and Colorado hemp growers and "is vital to the long-term growth of the industry," said the department's Duane Sinning. The state has some 400 hemp farmers.

Law Enforcement

Unrest Continues Over Killing of Unarmed Black Florida Man in SWAT Raid That Netted Two Grams of Weed. Protests have been ongoing in the Clairmel area of Hillsborough County ever since a SWAT team member shot and killed Levonia Riggins in his own bedroom last Thursday during a raid in which authorities turned up only two grams of marijuana. Traffic intersections have been blocked periodically as protestors call for the officer who killed Riggins to be fired.

International

Colombian President Just Says No to Resuming Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crops. President Juan Manuel Santos has shot down a trial balloon floated earlier this week by Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez, who suggested that the country was about to restart aerial eradication of coca crops by spraying herbicides on the fields. Spraying doesn't solve the problem, Santos said: "We arrive, fumigate or eradicate it with soldiers and police, only for farmers to plant even more productive varieties as we leave," the president said.

Indonesia Anti-Drug Head Calls for Philippines-Style War on Drugs. Budi Waseso, head of the Indonesian anti-drugs agency, said Tuesday his country was ramping up its drug war and said Indonesia could be as aggressive as the Philippines, where alleged drug users and dealers are being murdered in the streets by police and vigilantes. "Yes I believe so. It can happen because (the drugs problem) in Indonesia is as bad as in the Philippines. The life of a dealer is meaningless because (he) carries out mass murder. How can we respect that?," he added.

Philippines Drug War Death Toll Now Surging Toward 3,000 in Only Two Months. People are being killed at the rate of 44 a day in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drug users, drug sellers, and the rule of law, and the death toll after only two months in office is now nearing 3,000. Duterte is happy and wants more: "More people will be killed, plenty will be killed until the last pusher is out of the streets," he said "Until the (last) drug manufacturer is killed, we will continue and I will continue." Of the nearly 3,000 killed, about one-third are claimed by police and two-thirds are blamed on death squads, vigilantes, and hired assassins.

Chronicle AM: Denver Pot Social Use Init Makes Ballot, Kratom Fight Gathers Steam, More... (9/6/16)

Big city Texas prosecutors are increasingly dropping small-time pot cases, a Denver social use marijuana initiative qualifies for the ballot, kratom proponents move to block the DEA effort to place it on Schedule I, and more, including lots of international items.

Denver skyline (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Big City Prosecutors Are Dismissing Small-Time Marijuana Cases. Prosecutors in the state's five most populous counties -- Bexar (San Antonio), Dallas, Harris (Houston), Tarrant (Ft. Worth), and Travis (Austin) -- are increasingly dismissing small-time pot possession charges. In Ft. Worth, the number of cases dropped rose from 9% in 2011 to 25% last year. In Dallas, the number dropped rose from 18% to 41% in the same period. Travis County prosecutors Dan Hamre explained. "Jurors would look at us like we are crazy," he said. "'You are spending your time, our time and the court's time on a small amount of personal marijuana?'"

Washington State Campaign to End Marijuana Possession Felonies Underway. Under marijuana legalization via I-502, the stat legalized the possession of up to 28 grams of pot, but possession of 40 grams or more remains a felony. A Change.org petition calling on state lawmakers to fix the law is now underway. It has more than a thousand signatures in ten days, but could always use more.

Denver Marijuana Social Club Initiative Qualifies for Ballot. An initiative from the Denver Social Use Campaign has qualified for the November ballot. It would allow for the creation of "designated consumption areas" for marijuana use. Permits would be open to a broad range of businesses, and could cover a single event or be good for up to a year. Patrons would have to bring their own buds, though, since sales would not be allowed.

Medical Marijuana

Second Arkansas Lawsuit Challenges Medical Marijuana Initiative. A Little Rock attorney who is a member of NORML's National Legal Committee has filed a lawsuit seeking to knock the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act off the November ballot. In the lawsuit, attorney Kara Benca asked the court to invalidate some 15,000 voter signatures, which would disqualify the initiative. A second initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, has also qualified for the ballot. If both pass, the won with the most votes wins.

Drug Policy

Petition Drive to Undo Making Kratom Schedule I is Underway. In response to the DEA's announcement it was moving to make kratom's active ingredients Schedule I, fans of the opioid substitute have begun a Change.org petition asking the White House to intervene. The White House must respond if the petition hits 100,000 signatures by month's end. So far, it has nearly 70,000. The American Kratom Association also says it is pondering a lawsuit to block the move.

International

Australia Will Legalize Medical Marijuana in November. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has made it official. The agency has now formally announced it will move medical marijuana from Schedule 9 (prohibited substances) to Schedule 8 (controlled drugs). The change will go into effect in November.

Bolivian Government Proposes Prison Time for Illegal Coca Cultivation. Vice Minister for Social Defense Felipe Caceres announced Friday that the government is proposing a bill that would make illegal coca production a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. Under current law, illegal cultivators face no prison time, only the destruction of their crops.

Colombia Attorney General Calls for Renewed Aerial Eradication of Coca Crops. Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez has released a report calling for a resumption of aerial spraying of coca groups with herbicides. The government ended that policy las year, citing health risks, as well as a desire to emphasize public health and human rights in its drug policies. But an expansion of coca production has the government signaling it may change its tune.

Denmark's Christiania Residents Tear Down Hash Stalls After Police Shot and Wounded. Christiania has long been the go-to place to score hash in Copenhagen, but after a known drug seller opened fire on police last week, wounding two, residents of the hippie enclave began tearing down dealers' stalls, saying they feared organized crime was moving in. "If they start building up the booths again tonight, then well, we're here tonight as well. The plan is to continue tearing them down until it works," Christiania resident Helene Schou said. "I'm not saying hash should disappear completely from Christiania, but we needed a kiosk and what we had was a supermarket."

Philippines Will Make Drug Tests Mandatory for College Students. In the latest move in President Rodrigo Duterte's murderous war on drugs, his administration has announced it will seek to make students entering college undergo drug tests beginning next year. More than 2,400 people accused of being drug users or sellers have been killed in Duterte's two months in office, and his administration has instituted broad drug testing of police and politicians, among others.

A Long Hot Summer of Drug War Deaths [FEATURE]

The killing of a young, black, unarmed Tampa man by a SWAT team that raided his home in an operation that turned up two grams of marijuana has sparked angry protests last week, including demonstrations last Thursday where people damaged vehicles, lit fires, and threw trash at police, leaving five people arrested and a community outraged.

Levonia Riggins. Unarmed, killed in his bedroom in a raid that netted two grams of weed. (family photo)
Levonia Riggins was shot and killed in his bedroom by Deputy Caleb Johnson of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office as the SWAT team executed a search warrant based on purchases of marijuana from Riggins by undercover officers earlier this summer. Police said they used the SWAT team because they had found guns in the house a year earlier.

When deputies arrived, they broke through a window and found Riggins in bed. "Mr. Riggins then jumped up and moved his hands toward his waistband," a police spokesman explained. Johnson then fired, killing Riggins in what police called "a split-second decision." The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office is now investigating the killing, as is a sheriff's internal team.

Riggins was only the last person to be killed in drug law enforcement operations this summer that left 10 other people dead in separate incidents, including a Tennessee police officer. According to the Drug War Chronicle, which has been tracking such deaths since 2011, the year's drug war death toll now stands at 33.

That's a rate of about one a week, a rate that has held constant throughout the five years the Chronicle has been counting. Also consistent is the ratio of civilians killed to police officers killed. It has been running at about 10:1 over the five-year period, and with three officers killed so far this year, that ratio is being maintained.

Here are the rest of the summer's drug war victims and the circumstances of their deaths:

On August 18, in Apache Junction, Arizona, a Maricopa County sheriff's SWAT Team member shot and killed Larry Eugene Kurtley, Jr., 53, as the SWAT team attempted to take him into custody on drugs, drug paraphernalia, and weapons charges. A woman who left the residence as police arrived told them he could be armed, and the SWAT team then began to negotiate his surrender, police said. But Kurtley refused to come out, so police fired tear gas into the home. When he emerged from the house, he was armed, police said, and one of the SWAT deputies opened fire, killing him. Kurtley had served multiple prison sentences dating back to the 1990s. The Pinal County Attorney's Office and the sheriff's office professional standards bureau are investigating.

On August 16, just outside Augusta, West Virginia, a sheriff's deputy shot and killed John O'Handley, 55, of Yellow Springs as he reportedly grabbed the deputy's gun while being transported to jail after being arrested on methamphetamine and other charges. Deputies had originally gone to O'Handley's residence in search of a stolen motorcycle, but discovered an active meth lab in the home, as well as homemade bombs and stolen property. O'Handley allegedly reached between the front seats of the police car and grabbed the arresting deputy's gun. "A struggle then ensued," and the deputy fired one shot, striking O'Handley in the head and killing him. The shooting is being investigated by the West Virginia State Police.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent De'Greaun Frazier. Killled during an undercover drug buy. (tn.gov/tbi)
On August 9, in Jackson, Tennessee, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent was shot and killed while conducting an undercover drug buy. Special Agent De'Greaun Frazier, 35,was assisting Jackson Metro Narcotics and was in the front seat of a vehicle when the man he was supposed to buy drugs from instead tried to rob him, shooting him from the back seat. That man, Brendan Burns, has now been charged with murder in his death. Frazier had earlier served on a DEA task force while working at the Millington Police Department.

On August 9, in Los Angeles, LAPD officers in Boyle Heights shot and killed Jesse Romero, 14, as he fled from them while they investigated a report of possible "gang writings" and drug activity. According to the LAPD account, Romero and another youth split up and took off running when police arrived, and a witness saw Romero shoot a handgun toward pursuing officers. One officer returned fire, striking and killing Romero. But another witness said she saw Romero pull a gun from his basketball shorts as he ran, then toss it toward a fence. The gun fired when it fell to the ground after hitting the fence, startling Romero. "He didn't shoot," she said. Police recovered an old revolver, but it is unclear how near it was to Romero's body. The officers involved were wearing body cameras, but under LAPD policy that footage is only released to the officers involved before they make an initial statement -- not to the public. The ACLU of Southern California released a statement saying it was "particularly concerned" about Romero's death and criticizing LAPD's body camera policies.

On July 7, in Clovis, California, Clovis Police serving an arrest warrant on narcotics and related charges shot and killed Adam Smith, 33, as he attempted to flee in his vehicle. Police and his girlfriend's family lured him to the family residence, but he and his girlfriend tried to escape, jumping in his van in an alley. According to police, when they confronted the pair in the alley, the girlfriend jumped out of the van, Smith slammed it into reverse, nearly hitting her, then accelerated his vehicle toward the officers. Two of the three offices opened fire, fatally wounding Smith. He was not named in initial reports, but was later identified. In another report, an acquaintance said Smith was on heroin and had repeatedly said they he would die in a "suicide by cop," especially when he was on heroin.

Street meorial for 14-year-old Jesse Romero. (scpr.org)
On June 30, in Douglas, Wyoming, a US marshal shot and killed Jasen Scott Ramirez, 44, in the parking lot of a Catholic Church as he was leaving his father's funeral. The federal agents were seeking Ramirez to serve an arrest warrant on methamphetamine and weapons charges. Local police called to the scene after the shooting discovered 3.5 ounces of meth and two pistols in the vehicle he was driving, but it's unclear to whom the car, the guns, or the drugs belonged. It's also unclear whether Ramirez was brandishing or reaching for a weapon when he was shot and killed. The US Marshals Service has issued only a one-paragraph statement, short on details, including the name of the marshal who pulled the trigger. The agency said it would not be saying more until all investigations into the incident are concluded, including one by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. After the killing, an unconfirmed death threat was made against law enforcement, prompting authorities to temporarily lock down the county courthouse, city hall, and the hospital where Ramirez died.

On June 16, in Westminster, Colorado, a Westminster police officer shot and killed Nicholas Damon, 30, after Damon allegedly dragged the officer and ran over him with his car. Police were attempting to arrest Damon on outstanding drug and assault warrants when he hopped into his car and attempted to flee the scene. The officer involved was briefly hospitalized with "non-life threatening injuries." The killing is being reviewed by an Adams County special investigatory team.

On June 14, in Chula Vista, California, an undercover ICE agent shot and killed Fernando Geovanni Llanez, 22, as agents met with a half-dozen suspected marijuana traffickers in an apparent buy-bust deal at an Eastlake-area strip mall. The agent was part of the Homeland Security Investigations Operation Alliance drug task force, and the agency said Llanez attacked him in what could have been a robbery attempt. The agent fired several times, fatally wounding Llanez. His five companions fled, but were all chased down and arrested on charges of possession of marijuana for sale, conspiracy, and suspicion of robbery. Chula Vista police declined to confirm that it was an undercover operation and would not say if any cash or drugs were seized. There was no mention of any weapon.

On June 8, in Kansas City, Missouri, members of a DEA task force executing a search warrant shot and killed Carlos Garcia, 43, after he fired at officers from inside the house and then refused to exit, leading to an hours-long standoff. Finally, after police shot tear gas into the house, Garcia ran out the back door of the residence aiming his rifle at officers, police said. Task force members then opened fire on Garcia, killing him in the back yard.

On June 7, in Turlock, California, two Modesto police officers who were members of the Stanislaus County Drug Enforcement Agency "involved in a narcotics investigation" shot and killed Omar Villagomez after the vehicle he was driving collided with unmarked police vehicles as they attempted to arrest him. The passenger in the vehicle was not shot, but was injured by debris from the collision. He was charged with suspicion of meth possession with intent to sell, transportation of meth, possession of a controlled substance while armed, and possession of a loaded and concealed firearm.

Chronicle AM: MT MedMJ Patients Out of Luck, Christie Signs Needle Exchange Funding, More... (9/1/16)

It the end of easy access for Montana medical marijuana patients, the Arizona Supreme Court rejects the last challenge to that state's legalization initiative, the second Arkansas medical marijuana initiative is now officially on the ballot, Chris Christie signs a needle exchange funding bill, and more.

Chris Christie does the right thing on needle exchange. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

More Smoke Pot, Fewer Find it Risky, Survey Reports. Survey data shows more adults are using marijuana, they are using it more often, and they're less inclined to think it's risky than in the past, research results reported in The Lancet found. The number of adults using marijuana in the past year has jumped to 32 million -- going from one in ten in 2002 to one in eight in 2014. Only one-third of adults thought weekly marijuana use was risky, down from half in 2002.

Alaska Attorney General Says Pot Social Clubs Are Illegal. State Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said in a legal opinion Wednesday that marijuana social clubs are illegal. "Under Alaska law, a business cannot sell or provide marijuana or allow marijuana to be consumed on the premises unless it is licensed as a retail marijuana store by the Marijuana Control Board," Lindemuth wrote. The ruling does not apply to retail pot shops, for which state regulators are considering rules that would allow on-site cannabis consumption.

Arizona Supreme Court Rejects Challenges to Pot Legalization Initiative. Arizonans will be voting on Proposition 205 on November 8. The state Supreme Court has thrown out the last challenges to the measure, which accused it of misleading voters with its language, but the high court upheld a lower court ruling that Prop 205 substantially complies with legal requirements for initiatives.

Medical Marijuana

It's Official: Second Arkansas Initiatives Qualifies for the Ballot. Secretary of State Mark Martin's office said Wednesday that the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment had submitted sufficient valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. That means Arkansas voters will have two medical marijuana initiatives to vote on. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act was approved for the ballot in July. If both pass, the one with the most votes goes into effect.

Delaware Governor Signs Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana for Terminally Ill. Gov. Jack Markell (D) Wednesday signed into law "Bob's Bill," named for lung cancer patient Robert Jester, who died in 2014 without being able to legally use marijuana to ease his suffering. The bill allows for medical marijuana for terminally ill patients, including those under 18 who are suffering pain, anxiety, or depression.

Montana Medical Marijuana Patients Now Out of Luck. In the biggest medical marijuana rollback ever, as of September 1, medical marijuana dispensaries are now illegal, and up to 12,000 patients have lost legal access to marijuana. Medical marijuana providers are now limited to three patients, and thousands of patients have no provider. This is the end result of the GOP-led legislature's 2011 move to gut the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. An initiative that would restore the state's medical marijuana system, I-182, has been approved for the November ballot.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Governor Signs Needle Exchange Funding Bill. Gov. Christ Christie (R) Wednesday signed into law Assembly Bill 415, which creates permanent funding for five locally run needle exchange programs. Three of them, in Atlantic City, Camden, and Paterson, had already run out of funds and were close to closing their doors. "These programs not only distribute clean syringes to intravenous drug users, but also deliver lifesaving education, treatment, and testing to their participants," according to Christie's bill-signing statement.

New Psychoactive Substances

California Bill Would Make Possession of Synthetic Cannabinoids, Stimulants a Crime. The legislature has approved a bill requested by the California Narcotics Officers Association that would make first-time possession of specified synthetic cannabinoids or stimulants an infraction, with subsequent offenses treated as misdemeanors. Under current state law, selling the drugs is a crime, but possessing them isn't. The measure, Senate Bill 139, now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D). It is opposed by the ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance.

International

EU Wants to Ban New, Powerful Synthetic Cannabinoid. The European Commission announced Wednesday that it wants to ban MDMB-CHMICA, also known as "Black Mamba," a synthetic cannabinoid reportedly 10 times stronger than already banned synthetic cannabinoids. The European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Abuse reported that it has been linked to at least 42 "acute intoxications" and 29 deaths.

Philippines President Snubs UN Effort to Meet Over Drug Killings. President Rodrigo Duterte has turned down a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after threatening last month to quit the UN over its criticism of the mass killings of drug users and dealers since he came to office three months ago. Officials from Duterte's office said he was too busy to meet with the head of the global body. One UN official said it was "basically unheard of" for a national leader to be "too busy" to meet the secretary-general.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Ohio sheriff gets popped for his pain pill habit, a New Mexico cop videotapes himself stealing marijuana, a San Francisco cop heads to prison for illegal tactics and lying about them, and more. Let's get to it:

In Fremont, Ohio, the Sandusky County sheriff was arrested last Tuesday after a local grand jury indicted him for allegedly illegal obtaining prescription drugs and misusing department funds. Sheriff Kyle Overmyer was indicted on 43 counts, including misusing department money and tampering with records. State investigators said he took pills from prescription drug disposal boxes and deceived doctors and pharmacists to obtain more.

In Jackson, Mississippi, a Hinds County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Wednesday for trying to illegally obtain pain pills. Deputy Douglas Jay Nelson, 54, is accused of conspiring to possess and possessing 30 Oxycodone tablets.

In Grants, New Mexico, a Grants police sergeant was arrested last Wednesday after unwittingly recording himself on a body camera taking marijuana from his office and giving it to his girlfriend. Sgt. Roshern McKinney is also accused of embezzling $785 and a half-pound brick of weed that he never submitted to the department's evidence room. He is charge with distribution of marijuana, conspiracy, and felony embezzlement.

In Sanford, Florida, a Seminole County sheriff's jail deputy was arrested last Thursday on charges he stole prescription pain pills from a narcotics storage safe on at least four occasions. Lt. Jason Bender is accused of stealing around 40 pills, 10 each on four different occasions, for his own use. He faces four counts of grand theft of a controlled substance.

In San Francisco, a former San Francisco police officer was sentenced Tuesday to a year and two months in federal prison for conducting an unlawful search of a residential hotel room and writing a false report about it. Arshad Razzak, 44, had been convicted on four counts of conspiring to violate civil rights, violating the rights of a hotel resident during the search, falsifying an informant's pay slip, and falsifying a police report.

Medical Marijuana Update

A federal appeals court upholds the ban on gun sales to medical marijuana patients, Arkansans will have two medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot, Oklahomans will likely have none, and more.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, a second medical marijuana initiative was okayed for the ballot. The state already has one medical marijuana initiative on the ballot, the 2016 Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, and state officials announced Thursday that a second initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, will also appear on the ballot, even though they have yet to certify that it has enough signatures to do so. That's because Thursday was the deadline to certify ballot issues. Because the secretary of state's office was not able to verify late signatures before the deadline, the second initiative has been "certified to the ballot and assigned a number." If the initiative actually comes up short on signatures, votes for it in November will not be recorded.

On Monday, the state Democratic Party endorsed medical marijuana. With two competing medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot, the state Democratic Party has approved a platform plank endorsing medical marijuana. The plank calls for "the development of a responsible medical marijuana program that will receive patients in need of such relief the freedom to access this remedy."

California

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court upheld the ban on gun sales to medical marijuana patients. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Wednesday that the federal government's ban on gun sales to medical marijuana cardholders does not violate the 2nd Amendment. The decision came in the case of a Nevada woman turned away from a gun shop after obtaining a medical marijuana card. The ruling sets precedent for all nine states in the circuit, including California, Oregon, and Washington.

Florida

Last Thursday, the medical marijuana initiative was polling above 67%. The Amendment 2 medical marijuana amendment initiative appears headed for victory in November. A new poll from the University of Florida Bob Graham Center has support at 67.8%, in line with a slew of polls since early 2015 that show the initiative will a low of 61% approval and up to 80%. Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass.

Montana

Last Wednesday, an anti-marijuana zealot gave up on his initiative to repeal the state's medical marijuana law. Billings auto dealer Steve Zabawa has given up the ghost on his effort to get an anti-marijuana initiative on the state ballot. His measure would have repealed the state's already seriously gutted medical marijuana law (a measure that has made the ballot, I-182, seeks to reinstate the original law) and declare that any drug illegal under federal law is illegal under state law. He came up short on signatures, lost an initial court challenge, and now says he doesn't have time to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Zabawa said he will now concentrate on trying to defeat I-182.

New York

Last Thursday, the state Health Department called for expanding the medical marijuana program In a report marking the two-year anniversary of the state's medical marijuana program, the Department of Health called for expanding the program to meet patient needs. "To meet additional patient demand and increase access to medical marijuana throughout New York State, NYSDOH recommends registering five additional organizations over the next two years, using a phased-in approach to permit their smooth integration into the industry," the report said.

On Tuesday, the Health Department announced an expansion of the medical marijuana program. The state Department of Health said Tuesday it will allow nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana for patients and allow dispensaries to make deliveries. The department also said it was considering whether to include chronic pain on the state's list of qualifying conditions.

Oklahoma

On Monday, advocaes said the medical marijuana initiative was unlikely to appear on the ballot. The group behind the initiative, State Question 788, said they will challenge the attorney general's rewording of the battle title, and that will begin a legal process that will delay the measure beyond the November 8 election date. State officials, on the other hand, said the initiative campaign waited too long to turn in signatures. "We are dealing with processes established in both federal and state election law for initiatives proposed by the people that require specific procedures to be followed," Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) said. "It's important for the people of Oklahoma to know -- regardless of the substance of the state question -- the signatures were not submitted with enough time to allow this process to be played out completely."

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Obama Commutes More Sentences, Court Rules No Guns for MJ Patients, More... (8/31/16)

President Obama continues commuting drug sentences, the 9th Circuit upholds a ban on gun ownership for medical marijuana patients, Albuquerque gets sued over its asset forfeiture scheme, and more.

Obama meets federal prisoners at El Reno, Oklahoma. (whitehouse.gov)
Medical Marijuana

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Ban on Gun Sales to Medical Marijuana Cardholders. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Wednesday that the federal government's ban on gun sales to medical marijuana cardholders does not violate the 2nd Amendment. The decision came in the case of a Nevada woman turned away from a gun shop after obtaining a medical marijuana card. The ruling sets precedent for all nine states in the circuit, including California, Oregon, and Washington.

New York Expands Program, Will Allow Medical Marijuana Deliveries. The state Department of Health said Tuesday it will allow nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana for patients and allow dispensaries to make deliveries. The department also said it was considering whether to include chronic pain on the state's list of qualifying conditions.

Asset Forfeiture

Albuquerque Sued for Refusing to Shut Down Asset Forfeiture Program. An Albuquerque woman whose car was seized after he son was pulled over for drunk driving filed suit in state court Wednesday arguing that the city's asset forfeiture program violates recently passed state-level asset forfeiture reforms and "is driven by a pernicious -- and unconstitutional -- profit incentive" that deprives her of her due process rights. Although the state passed the reforms last year, the city has continued to seize vehicles like Harjo's, arguing the law does not apply to it. The city was already sued by two lawmakers, but that suit was dismissed, with the court ruling they lacked standing to sue. The city has seized more than 8,000 vehicles since 2010.

Pardons and Commutations

President Obama Commutes Sentences for 111 More Drug Offenders. The president continued his pardon push Wednesday, commuting sentences for 111 more drug offenders. That brings to 325 the number pardoned this month alone -- a record -- and to 673 the number whose sentences Obama has commuted throughout his term. That's more than the previous 10 presidents combined.

International

Mexico Federal Police Chief Fired Over Massacre of Cartel Suspects. President Enrique Pena Nieto Monday fired federal police chief Enrique Gallindo over the apparent massacre of 22 suspected cartel members in Michoacan last year. Earlier this month, the National Human Rights Commission released a report saying the victims had been "executed arbitrarily."

DEA Places Kratom on Schedule I, the Same Status as Heroin

The DEA announced Tuesday that it plans to crack down on kratom, a Southeast Asian plant that has gained increasing popularity among chronic pain sufferers and people wishing to wean themselves from opioids.

Kratom. Only on the shelves for another 30 days. (Creative Commons)
The drug agency said it was using its emergency powers to place two psychoactive substances in the plant -- mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine -- on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the same schedule as heroin. The move will take effect by the end of September and will be in effect for up to three years.

"Kratom has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision," the defining characteristics of a Schedule I drug, the DEA said.

Kratom was traditionally used in Thailand and Malaysia to help endure physical labor, relieve pain, and stop diarrhea. It was also good for relieving the symptoms of opium withdrawal.

That's because it acts like an opiate. Its active ingredients activate the same opioid receptors heroin and prescription pain pills do. And it behaves like an opiate -- with a couple of exceptions, one interesting and one quite important.

Like other opiates, it relieves pain, slows bowel activity, produces euphoric feelings, and creates physical addiction and a withdrawal syndrome. But unlike other opiates, it causes a pleasant, caffeine-type buzz in small doses and, more significantly, it is apparently very difficult -- if not impossible -- to overdose on it. The few deaths where kratom is implicated include poly-drug use, or as in a case reported by the New York Times, suicide by a young kratom user who was also being treated for depression.

And it has caught on here in the United States, especially among pain patients and people seeking to transition from opioid addiction, so much so that the DEA said it needed to act "in order to avoid an imminent threat to public safety." Calls to poison control centers about kratom jumped from a mere two between 2000 and 2005 to 660 between 2010 and 2015. DEA reported 15 "kratom-related" deaths between 2014 and now.

But that's out of millions of doses. According to DEA's own data, at least 130,000 pounds of kratom was seized by law enforcement in the last two years, and the FDA has ordered another 140,000 pounds of the stuff held pending an admissibility decision. That's enough for some 12 million doses, and that's just what they seized.

The DEA decision will doubtless lead to the removal of falsely-labeled and tainted products claiming to be kratom, but it's also likely to drive thousands of people with chronic pain and opioid problems back to the substances they were trying to avoid. And when it comes to lethality, kratom is opium's mild-mannered little sister. While the DEA cites 15 deaths linked to kratom since 2014, there were more than 29,000 fatal opioid overdoses in 2014 alone.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: DEA to Make Kratom Schedule I, Thailand to Downschedule Meth, More... (8/30/16)

The DEA announces it will make the active ingredients in kratom Schedule I substances, marijuana legalization initiatives in Arizona and Michigan go to court, the Thai government is moving to reform the way it deals with meth, and more.

Kratom is headed for Schedule I (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Campaign Sues Over Ballot Description. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol filed a lawsuit Monday asking the state Supreme Court to fix what is says is inaccurate language in the ballot description of Prop 205 that will be presented to voters. The description written by Secretary of State Michele Reagan left out information that the campaign says is important, such as noting that a new 15% marijuana tax would go mainly to schools. The Supreme Court is also hearing a challenge from opponents of Prop 205. It needs to finalize the ballot language today.

Michigan Legalization Campaign Asks State Supreme Court to Put Initiative on Ballot. In a last ditch bid to get its legalization initiative on the November ballot, MI Legalize has filed a motion with the Supreme Court asking it to overturn a lower court's ruling that the state had no obligation to include signatures gathered outside a 180-day window. MI Legalize gathered more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but some of them were deemed too old to be counted.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Democratic Party Endorses Medical Marijuana. With two competing medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot, the state Democratic Party has approved a platform plank endorsing medical marijuana. The plank calls for "the development of a responsible medical marijuana program that will receive patients in need of such relief the freedom to access this remedy."

Drug Policy

DEA to Place Kratom on Schedule I. The DEA announced Wednesday that it is moving to place the active materials in the kratom plant on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. That schedule is reserved for drugs that have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. The scheduled substances are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Kratom is a tropical tree indigenous to Southeast Asia. It produces opioid-like effects and has been marketed as a legal alternative to controlled substances. Not anymore, though.

International

Hundreds of Argentine Judges, Lawyers Call for End to Drug War. Some 500 magistrates, lawyers, and other legal figures used the 30th anniversary of key Supreme Court decision to call for an end to the war on drugs. In 1986, in the "Bazterrica" ruling, the nation's high court ruled it unconstitutional to prosecute people for simple drug possession. Yet Argentine law still allows such prosecutions. The legal figures are demanding that the law be changed to be in compliance with the Bazterrica ruling.

Thailand Takes Another Step Toward Moving Meth off Dangerous Drugs List. The Justice Ministry is set to remove methamphetamine from its list of dangerous drugs, which would allow health authorities to use it for medical reasons. The move is part of a larger shift in how the country deals with drug use, and is part of a bill that will emphasize treatment for drug users, including substituting prescription stimulants such as Modafinil for meth. The government has given no time line for when the bill will move.

Chronicle AM: OK MedMJ Initiative Looking Iffy, PA Governor Calls for Pot Decrim, More... (8/29/16)

Cornhuskers look down the road on marijuana reforms, Pennsylvania's governor calls for marijuana decriminalization, the Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative looks like it won't actually make the ballot, and more.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) says decriminalize it. (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

Nebraska 2018 Legalization Initiative Campaign Gets Underway. A group calling itself Legal Marijuana Now has begun a signature gathering drive for an initiative that would legalize possession of up to an ounce of pot for medical or recreational purposes. The group is aiming at 2018 and needs roughly 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Pennsylvania Governor Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said Monday the state needs to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of pot. While some localities have quit arresting small-time pot possessors, too many haven't. "I think we need to do that in a more systematic fashion," Wolf said. "There are too many people who are going to prison because of the use of very modest amounts or carry modest amounts of marijuana, and that is clogging up our prisons, it's destroying families and it's hurting our economy, so I think decriminalization is the first step."

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Initiative Unlikely to Appear on Ballot, Advocates Say. The group behind the initiative, State Question 788, said they will challenge the attorney general's rewording of the battle title, and that will begin a legal process that will delay the measure beyond the November 8 election date. State officials, on the other hand, said the initiative campaign waited too long to turn in signatures. "We are dealing with processes established in both federal and state election law for initiatives proposed by the people that require specific procedures to be followed," Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) said. "It's important for the people of Oklahoma to know -- regardless of the substance of the state question -- the signatures were not submitted with enough time to allow this process to be played out completely."

International

New Zealand Poll Finds Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Another poll is signaling overwhelming support for medical marijuana among Kiwis. A new UMR poll has support at 76%, up four points from the same poll last year. The poll had only 12% opposed, with another 12% undecided. The poll also asked whether marijuana should be treated as a herbal remedy; 61% said yes.

Chronicle AM: CA MJ Init Has Big Bucks, Second AR MedMJ Init Will Be on Ballot, More... (8/26/16)

It's another all-marijuana news day today. Initiative battles are heating up, New York's Health Department wants to expand the medical marijuana program, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California's Prop 64 Campaign Has Raised More Than $11 Million. The campaign to legalize marijuana in California it out-fundraising the opposition by a margin of 61 to 1, according to new campaign finance reports. The Prop 64 campaign has raised $11.45 million, while the No on 64 opposition campaign has raised only $185,000. Prop 64 has received more than $2.3 million from tech billionaire Sean Parker, $750,000 from Weedmaps founder Justin Hartfield, $1.5 million from the New Approach PAC, and $1.25 million from Drug Policy Action, among others. Opposition funding is coming from Smart Approach to Marijuana, the California Teamsters, and law enforcement.

Nevada Law Enforcement Comes Out Against Question 2. At a Carson City press conference Thursday, state Attorney General Adam Laxalt and other law enforcement officials came out in opposition to the Question 2 marijuana legalization initiative. The claimed "this ballot initiative was written by major marijuana interests, who's bigger concern is making money," not the greater good of Nevadans, and cited concerns about impaired driving.

Tennessee Governor Opposes Decrim in Memphis and Nashville. The state's two largest cities are both considering decriminalizing small-time marijuana possession, but Republican Gov. Bill Haslam wants none of it. "I'm not a fan," he says. "While I do think we've had some people who have spent more time in jail than they need to for that. I'm not in favor of decriminalizing that."

Medical Marijuana

Second Arkansas Initiative Will Be on Ballot, Even If It Doesn't Qualify. The state already has one medical marijuana initiative on the ballot, the 2016 Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, and state officials announced Thursday that a second initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, will also appear on the ballot, even though they have yet to certify that it has enough signatures to do so. That's because Thursday was the deadline to certify ballot issues. Because the secretary of state's office was not able to verify late signatures before the deadline, the second initiative has been "certified to the ballot and assigned a number." If the initiative actually comes up short on signatures, votes for it in November will not be recorded.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Polling Above 67%. The Amendment 2 medical marijuana amendment initiative appears headed for victory in November. A new poll from the University of Florida Bob Graham Center has support at 67.8%, in line with a slew of polls since early 2015 that show the initiative will a low of 61% approval and up to 80%. Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass.

New York Health Department Calls for Expanding Medical Marijuana Program. In a report marking the two-year anniversary of the state's medical marijuana program, the Department of Health called for expanding the program to meet patient needs. "To meet additional patient demand and increase access to medical marijuana throughout New York State, NYSDOH recommends registering five additional organizations over the next two years, using a phased-in approach to permit their smooth integration into the industry," the report said.

Chronicle AM: CA Forfeiture Reform Passes State House, MT Anti-MJ Init Folds, More... (8/25/16)

Lots of California news today, plus a Montana anti-marijuana initiative folds.

A bill to rein in asset forfeiture abuses has passed the California legislature and now awaits Gov. Brown's signature.
Marijuana Policy

California Legislature Passes Cottage Cannabis Production Bill. The measure, Assembly Bill 2516, would establish a new medical marijuana cultivator license category for what sponsor Assemblyman Jim Woods (D-North Coast) calls "microfarmers." The category would apply to farmers with 2,500 square feet or less for mixed-light cultivation, 500 square feet for indoor cultivation, or up to 25 mature marijuana plants for outdoor cultivation. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

California's Legal Marijuana Industry Could Generate $6.5 Billion a Year, Report Says. A new report from Arcview Market Research estimates that legalizing marijuana in the state would create a $6.5 billion annual market by 2020. That would make California the "epicenter" of legal marijuana in the US.

Medical Marijuana

Montana Anti-Marijuana Zealot Gives Up on Initiative to Repeal Medical Marijuana Law. Billings auto dealer Steve Zabawa has given up the ghost on his effort to get an anti-marijuana initiative on the state ballot. His measure would have repealed the state's already seriously gutted medical marijuana law (a measure that has made the ballot, I-182, seeks to reinstate the original law) and declare that any drug illegal under federal law is illegal under state law. He came up short on signatures, lost an initial court challenge, and now says he doesn't have time to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Zabawa said he will now concentrate on trying to defeat I-182.

Asset Forfeiture

California Legislature Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. A bill that would require a criminal conviction before seizing assets in cases involving less than $40,000 has passed the legislature and is now on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The measure, Senate Bill 443, sponsored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), would also prohibit police from partnering with federal agencies in drug busts in order to get around state asset forfeiture laws.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

From Key West to Alaska, law enforcement and prison and jail guard misconduct is exposed. Just another week on the crooked cop front. Let's get to it:

In Nashville, Tennessee, a Nashville Metro Police officer was arrested last Tuesday for punching a drug suspect in the face after she got stuck with a needle hidden in the suspect's bra. Officer Elizabeth Berry-Loucks was searching the woman suspect after arresting her on heroin and gun charges, and reacted to the needle-stick by immediately hitting her in the face. She is now charged with misdemeanor assault.

In Key West, Florida, a Monroe County jail deputy was arrested last Thursday after he allegedly agreed to let a convicted drug dealer escape in exchange for $400,000 in cash he needed to pay off credit card debts. Elizardo Ortueta, 50, was caught red-handed picking up cash from an undercover informant. First, Ortueta asked the imprisoned drug dealer for $50,000 in exchange for preferential treatment, but then approached him seeking $400,000 and offering to help him escape. The drug dealer instead ratted him out, and he went down in an undercover sting. He now faces felony charges of receiving unlawful compensation for official behavior, smuggling contraband into a corrections facility, use of a two-way communications device to facilitate a felony and a misdemeanor charge of not having a valid Florida driver's license, although he has a valid one from North Carolina.

In Kinston, North Carolina, a state prison guard was arrested Saturday after being caught with marijuana on his person as he came to work. Guard Kristopher Williams, 22, got nailed with three grams of the green. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance on prison premises.

In Point MacKenzie, Alaska, a former state prison guard pleaded guilty last Monday to smuggling heroin and marijuana into the Goose Creek Correctional Center. Adam Jason Spindler copped to one count of drug conspiracy and one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. Spindler went down after the Department of Corrections warned the FBI it had information he was smuggling drugs into the prison. He's looking at up to 20 years in federal prison, but will probably get much less since he pleaded guilty.

In Auburn, Georgia, a former Auburn police officer pleaded guilty last Friday to stealing drugs and money from one drug trafficker while working for another. Charles Hubbard, 51, conducted fake police stops to steal drugs in exchange for cash payments. He got $5,000 for one such incident. In another incident, he stole money from a confidential informant, giving him a receipt from the "East Metro Drug Task Force," which does not actually exist. He copped to drug trafficking and conspiracy charges and will be sentenced in November.

In Rome, Georgia, a former Floyd County sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Thursday to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to repeatedly stealing prescription pills. Jessie Stiles had been indicted on 53 counts, including multiple counts of theft by taking and drug possession, as well as five counts of exploiting an elderly person, three counts of burglary, and 10 counts of violating his oath of office. It wasn't clear which counts he actually copped to.

Medical Marijuana Update

Which states will be voting on medical marijuana this year is becoming clearer, but is not completely settled; a new study finds that marijuana is not implicated with bad organ transplant outcomes, and more.

National

Last Friday, a study found that marijuana use is not associated with bad organ transplant outcomes. A peer-reviewed study from the journal Clinical Transplantation finds that marijuana use is not contraindicated in kidney transplants. "[R]ecreational marijuana use should not be considered a contraindication to kidney transplantation," the authors concluded. "[R]ecreational marijuana use should be systematically evaluated in a larger setting before a decision is made on what, if any, degree of use or abuse should be considered a relative or absolute contraindication, or whether use or abuse should be considered a contraindication." Even in jurisdictions that allow for medical marijuana use, hospitals routinely disqualify patients with a marijuana history from eligibility for organ transplants.

As of Tuesday, these four states will definitely be voting on medical marijuana initiatives in November. Get a look at the details of and prospects for medical marijuana initiatives that have officially qualified for the November ballot in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota. There is also an Oklahoma initiative that may still qualify (see below), a second Arkansas initiative that may qualify, and a Montana anti-marijuana initiative that is appealing come up short on signatures.

Arkansas

Last Friday, a second medical marijuana initiative looked set to qualify for the ballot. There's already one medical marijuana initiative on the ballot, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, but there could be another. Backers of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment handed in additional signatures last Friday after they came up short in the original round of petitioning. The amendment needed 84,589 valid voter signatures, but only came up with 72,000 valid ones on July 8. Being so close, however, qualified the amendment for a second round of signature gathering, and it has now handed in another 35,000 raw signatures, meaning it should now qualify. If both initiatives appear on the ballot and both pass, the one with the most votes will become law.

On Wednesday, prohibitionists went to court to block the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. A group calling itself Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana Wednesday asked the state Supreme Court to block the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act from appearing on the November ballot. The measure has already qualified, but the group's lawsuit claims the wording of the proposal is misleading and omits key information.

Arizona

Last Thursday, the prospect of possible legalization was spurring a rush for medical marijuana licenses. More than 750 people or groups have submitted applications for 31 medical marijuana dispensary licenses to be awarded in October. Medical marijuana license holders will get first crack at new adult use licenses if the Prop 205 legalization initiative passes.

Missouri

On Monday, a group of DAs sought to block New Approach Missouri's challenge on invalidated signatures. A dozen state prosecutors have filed legal action to block the New Approach Missouri medical marijuana initiative from getting on the ballot. The group is challenging official signature counts that say it came up short, but the DAs argue that that isn't the real issue. They argue that the state cannot put on the ballot issues that would result in laws in conflict with US law.

Montana

Last Thursday, an anti-marijuana initiative failed to qualify for the ballot, but will challenge the signature shortfall. An initiative seeking to repeal the state's medical marijuana law has failed to qualify for the November ballot after coming up short on valid signatures. The Safe Montana campaign claims the state improperly rejected or lost signatures and has filed suit to challenge the state's decision. Meanwhile, the I-182 initiative, which would rebuild the state's largely gutted medical marijuana program, has already qualified for the ballot.

Oklahoma

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana initiative took a giant step toward qualifying for the ballot. Secretary of State Chris Benge announced Tuesday that a medical marijuana initiative, State Question 788, has handed in 67,761 valid voter signatures. It only needs 65,987 to qualify for the November ballot, but there are still a couple more hurdles to overcome. The secretary of state's office must send a report on its findings to the state Supreme Court, which will then determine if the number of signatures is enough to put the initiative on the ballot.

Pennsylvania

Last Friday, the state took a step forward in implementing its medical marijuana system. The state Health Department has released a draft of the rules for the state's nascent medical marijuana industry. The more than 90 pages of draft regulations create a roadmap for aspiring medical marijuana growers and processors who are competing for 25 lucrative permits.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

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